Institute for Advanced Study (Princeton, N.J.)

Interviewed by
David Zierler
Interview date
Location
Video conference
Abstract

In this interview, David Zierler, Oral Historian for AIP, interviews Marvin Weinstein, Chief Science Officer of Quantum Insights, and emeritus physicist of SLAC. Weinstein describes the origins of Quantum Insights in partnership with David Horn and the development of a data mining algorithm called Dynamic Quantum Clustering (DQC). He recounts his upbringing in Brooklyn, his early interests in physics, and his undergraduate education at Columbia. He describes the big issues in physics at the time, including the two-neutrino experiment, and he explains his decision to remain at Columbia for his PhD to study under Gerald Feinberg. Weinstein explains how he became a postdoctoral student at the Institute of Advanced Study with the endorsement of T.D. Lee to work with Roger Dashen on K13 lepton decays. He describes his subsequent faculty appointments at Yeshiva University and then NYU, and he discusses the opportunities that led to him joining the theory group at SLAC. Weinstein describes his work on PCAC and the Higgs mechanism, and he explains how DQC originated from his interests in quantum mechanics. He explains his subsequent work in lattice field theory and then core and condensed matter physics, and he describes the changing budgetary environment at SLAC over the course of his career. At the end of the interview, Weinstein conveys optimism that his focus on the health industry will demonstrate that the adoption of DQC and its ability to analyze data will lead to better health outcomes across a spectrum of ailments.

Interviewed by
David Zierler
Interview date
Location
Video conference
Abstract

Interview with Marc Kamionkowski, William R. Kenan, Jr. Professor of Physics and Astronomy at Johns Hopkins University. He discusses his family heritage of Ashkenazi Jews who left Eastern Europe for Argentina, and his father’s medical research which took the family to Cleveland. Kamionkowski recounts his childhood in Shaker Heights, and he describes his undergraduate work at Washington University, where he switched from pre-med to physics to work with Marty Israel and Joe Klarmann. Despite his lack of preparation, Kamionkowski explains his admission to the University of Chicago, and he describes “the bug” that made him focus on physics and drive to succeed in quantum mechanics and understand quantum field theory. He discusses his thesis research under the direction of Michael Turner on energetic neutrinos from WIMP annihilation in the sun. Kamionkowski discusses his post-doctoral research at the Institute for Advanced Study where he was in Frank Wilczek’s particle theory group. He describes his first faculty appointment at Columbia and how experimental advances had opened up opportunities in cosmology. He explains his decision to move to Caltech because of its strength in theoretical astrophysics and where he became director of the Moore Center. Kamionkowski discusses his subsequent move to Johns Hopkins, and he surveys his recent projects on the Hubble Tension and early dark energy. At the end of the interview, Kamionkowski explains why he has always valued research that bridges the divide between theory and experimentation and why he expects this will continue to inform his broad research agenda.

Interviewed by
Robert Crease
Interview dates
January 9, 10 & 18, 2016
Location
Amherst, MA
Abstract

Interview with Toichiro Kinoshita, a Japanese-born physicist who is best known for pioneering the value of muon g-2, the anomalous magnetic moment of the muon. Kinoshita describes his education—Daiichi High School, Tokyo University—how he avoided military service during World War II, and meeting and marrying his wife, Masako Matsuoka. He describes his introduction to quantum electrodynamics and renormalization through papers by Dyson and Feynman. His early research also involved work on the C-meson theory developed by Sakata. After the war, Kinoshita came to the United States to the Institute for Advanced Study, then as a postdoc at Columbia in 1954. In 1955 Kinoshita moved to Cornell. He became particularly interested in making calculations to test the theory of quantum electrodynamics. He describes his introduction to computers at Princeton, using von Neumann’s computer. The interview covers how he became interested in calculating g-2 at CERN in 1966, and his subsequent efforts, the first being the sixth order calculation, where the light-by-light diagram enters for the first time. He describes his efforts doing the eighth order calculation, and his collaboration with Makiko Nio, as well as his calculations of the tenth order. Physicists whom he describes more than briefly include Kodaira, Tomonaga, Nambu, and Nio. Near the end, Kinoshita describes the importance of g-2 experiments, and his recent work. 

Interviewed by
David Zierler
Interview date
Location
Video conference
Abstract

Interview with Feryal Ozel, professor of astronomy and physics at the University of Arizona. Ozel recounts her childhood and family background in Istanbul and how her interest in science was fostered both at home and at the all-girls international school she attended through 12th grade. She describes the opportunities that led to her enrollment at Columbia University for her undergraduate education, where she majored in physics and applied math and where Jacob Shaham influenced her interest in neutron stars. She describes a formative summer internship at CERN where she worked on supersymmetric decays of the Higgs boson, and a postgraduate year at the Niels Bohr Institute, before she began her graduate work at Harvard. Ozel discusses her thesis research on magnetars under the direction of Ramesh Narayan and she describes her postdoctoral position at the Institute for Advanced Study as a Hubble fellow. She describes the academic and family considerations that made Arizona an attractive option and she explains the mechanics behind funding from NASA and the NSF. Ozel describes her favorite physics classes to teach, how she sees her role as a mentor to women students and students of under-represented groups, and she surveys recent developments in neutron star astrophysics and the interaction of gas and black holes. She discusses her contributions to the Event Horizon collaboration, and she relates her ideas on the significance of seeing a photograph of a black hole without needing observational evidence to know that black holes exist. Ozel describes her motivations in serving in scientific advisory roles and the importance of science communication and how advances in computational power have revolutionized astrophysics. At the end of the interview, Ozel discusses the outstanding question mark about making gravity compatible with how we understand the subatomic world and how this serves as a starting point for future research oriented toward fundamental discovery, and why she is particularly interested in continuing to work on black hole imaging.

Interviewed by
David Zierler
Interview date
Location
Video conference
Abstract

Interview with Scott Tremaine, emeritus professor at the Institute for Advanced Study in Princeton. Tremaine discusses his current affiliation with the University of Toronto, and he provides a historical overview of the boundaries between astronomy and astrophysics. He recounts his childhood in a town north of Toronto, and he explains his early interests in science. Tremaine describes his undergraduate experience at McMaster, the opportunities that led to his graduate admission to Princeton, and the exciting developments that compelled him to focus his thesis research on astrophysics. He describes his dissertation on the dynamics of galaxies done under the direction of Jerry Ostriker, who at the time was focused on the earliest research on dark matter. Tremaine discusses his postdoctoral term at Caltech where he worked with Jim Gunn and Peter Goldreich, and he explains his decision to take a second postdoctoral position at the Institute of Astronomy at Cambridge. He describes his appointment at the Institute for Advanced Study, his decision to join the faculty at MIT, and he explains his ongoing research collaboration with Goldreich on studying Saturn's rings. Tremaine describes the intellectual origins of his book, co-authored with James Binney, Galactic Dynamics, and he explains his decision to join the University of Toronto to become the director of CITA. He describes his interests in the origins of comets, his contributions to black hole research, and his appointment at the Institute for Advanced Study. Tremaine discusses his work on exoplanets, and at the end of the interview, he surveys the importance of increasing computational power over the course of his career, the exciting advances that have been made in understanding galaxy development, and why the "three-legged" stool upon which cosmology rests - namely, on inflation, dark matter, and dark energy, is problematic.

Interviewed by
David Zierler
Interview date
Location
Video conference
Abstract

Interview with Juan Maldacena, Carl P. Feinberg Professor at the Institute for Advanced Study. Maldacena recounts his childhood in Buenos Aires, he discusses his undergraduate education at the University of Buenos Aires and his advanced work in physics at Instituto Balseiro where he had his initial exposure to string theory. He explains his decision to pursue a graduate degree at Princeton where he worked with Curt Callan and where he benefited from Ed Witten’s lectures on dualities in quantum field theory and in string theory. Maldacena describes his thesis research on conformal field theories with boundaries and the significance of Joe Polchinski’s discovery of D-branes, and he conveys the importance of his collaboration with Andy Strominger as a postdoctoral researcher at Rutgers. He describes his paper on AdS/CFT while at Harvard and he explains his work on non-gaussianities and his realization that string theory would be useful for cosmology. Maldacena explains his decision to leave the faculty at Harvard to join the Institute, and he describes his subsequent research on space-time and entanglement, the chaos of black holes and the likelihood that they are rapidly thermalizing systems. He explains the contributions of string theory research as offering physics a model for quantum gravity and for the quantum mechanics of spacetime itself, and he shares his perspective on broader debates about how many researchers should or should not be involved in string theory work. At the end of the interview, Maldacena describes his hope in the future to better understand the interiors of black holes.

Interviewed by
David Zierler
Interview date
Location
Video conference
Abstract

Interview with Michael Dine, Professor of Physics at the University of California at Santa Cruz. Dine conveys his provisional excitement over the g-2 muon anomaly experiment at Fermilab and he recounts his childhood in Cincinnati. Dine discusses his undergraduate education at Johns Hopkins, his developing interests in physics, and the opportunity that led to his graduate research at Yale. He describes working under the supervision of Tom Appelquist and trying to understand the force between heavy quarks within quantum chromodynamics. Dine describes his earliest exposure to string theory and his decision to take a postdoctoral appointment at SLAC, where he worked with Jonathan Saperstein on the next order calculation of the total electron-positron cross section. He discusses Lenny Susskind’s work on Technicolor and his subsequent appointment at the Institute for Advanced Study, his close collaboration with Willy Fischler, and the excitement surrounding supersymmetry at the time. Dine describes the impact made by Ed Witten when he arrived in Princeton and he discusses the origins of axion-dark matter research. He discusses his first faculty position at City College in New York and his reaction to the “string revolution” of 1984 and AdS/CFT a few years later. Dine explains his decision to move to UC Santa Cruz and his burgeoning interest in cosmology, he reflects on when his research focused to physics beyond the Standard Model, and he explains why it is possible to decouple the expectation that supersymmetry must be detected at the LHC. He explains why string theory is making strides toward experimental verifiability, and he reflects on the utility of being a theorist. At the end of the interview, Dine emphasizes his optimism about the axion as a dark matter candidate and why the field is moving steadily toward a greater understanding of physics at both the largest and smallest scales.

Interviewed by
David Zierler
Interview date
Location
Video conference
Abstract

In this interview, David Zierler, Oral Historian for AIP, interviews Cumrun Vafa, Hollis Professor of Mathematicks and Natural Philosophy in the Department of Physics at Harvard. Vafa surveys the current state of the field in string theory, and he recounts his upbringing in Iran and his family’s goal for him to pursue education in the United States. He explains the opportunities that led to his acceptance to MIT, and his intellectual journey from being practical-minded in his study of economics and engineering, to his blossoming love for mathematics and physics. Vafa describes his early difficulties reconciling the formalism of math with the intuition he sensed pervaded concepts in physics, and he explains how this changed as a student of Ed Witten’s at Princeton. He describes his entrée into string theory at the time that Witten had committed himself to learning string theory, and he describes the evolution of the field from the first to the second “revolutions” from 1984 to 1994. Vafa describes his time as a junior fellow at Harvard and some of the tensions that existed in the physics department between senior faculty who were not interested in string theory, and the junior faculty who were. He explains the circumstances that led to his rapid tenure at Harvard and he describes the ideas that became his “Swampland” concept. Vafa discusses his collaborations with Andy Strominger on black holes and with Robert Brandenberger on string gas cosmology and his solo research on F-theory. He talks about the long-term prospects for a truer understanding of quantum gravity, and at the end of the interview, Vafa engages with critics and string theory, and delineates between those who are not interests themselves (which he understands and respects) and those who wish to make it more difficult for others to study string theory (which he finds problematic). Vafa acknowledges the current gap between string theory and experimental verification but asserts that this gap is a function of current technological limitations in observation, and not a shortcoming of string theory itself.

Interviewed by
David Zierler
Interview date
Location
Video conference
Abstract

In this interview, David Zierler, Oral Historian for AIP, interviews Daniel Z. Freedman, Professor Emeritus of Applied Mathematics and Physics at MIT and long-term visiting professor at Stanford. Freedman explains his understanding of the term’s mathematical physics and physical mathematics, and he bemoans the broad decoupling of experiment and theory in physics. He recounts his upbringing in West Hartford, Connecticut, and he describes his undergraduate education at Wesleyan. Freedman describes his early attachment to theory and his graduate work at the University of Wisconsin, where he worked under the direction of Ray Sawyer on Regge poles. He discusses his postdoctoral research as a NATO fellow in Europe at CERN and Imperial College London, and he conveys the sense of excitement at the time about the weak and strong interactions. Freedman describes his appointment at UC Berkeley before joining the Institute for Advanced Study, and he explains the opportunity that led to his faculty job at Stony Brook. He reflects on his interactions with Yang and he narrates the origins of supersymmetry, and shortly after, the origins of supergravity. Freedman explains what is “super” in supergravity, supersymmetry, and super-space, and he describes why the reality of supersymmetry must be true even if we lack the tools to see it. He explains his decision to move to MIT, and he connects the arc from the 1984 string revolution to the discovery of AdS/CFT in 1997. Freedman describes winning the Dirac medal and subsequently the Breakthrough Prize, which he understood as confirmation in the community about the importance of supergravity. At the end of the interview, Freedman connects his work to larger questions in cosmology and astrophysics, he expresses surprise by the increasing centrality of mathematics to physics, he explains his early work on neutrino scattering and why after 40 years, his original intuition has been vindicated.

Interviewed by
David Zierler
Interview date
Location
Video conference
Abstract

Interview with Michael Green, Lucasian Professor Emeritus at Cambridge University and visiting professor at Queen Mary University. He recounts his childhood in London as the child of secular Jewish parents who immigrated to London just before World War II. Green discusses his early interests in physics and the opportunities that led to his enrollment at Cambridge, and he conveys Geoff Chew’s influence with his ideas on S-matrix and bootstrap theory, which informed his thesis research on hadronic interactions. He narrates the founding ideas that led to string theory and how the work on dual models became transformed into string theory. Green describes his postdoctoral work at the Institute for Advanced Study and his interactions with Veneziano. He explains his decision to return to Cambridge and the importance of the CERN theory group for his research, and he narrates the origins of his collaborations with John Schwarz. Green connects string theory to the ideas that led to supergravity, and he explains why he does not like the term “revolution” in relation to advances in string theory to explain what was happening between 1981-1984. He explains the meaning of the pronoun “super” in relation to string theory, and he conveys his disappointment that supersymmetry has yet to be observed. Green describes the importance of AdS/CFT and his contributions to the origins of D-branes with Joe Polchinski. He discusses his increasing reliance on computers for understanding aspects of AdS/CFT correspondence. Green reflects on winning the Breakthrough Prize, and the supposed aspirational recognition on working to unify the forces which are not yet unified, and he discusses the generational de-coupling of string theory education from particle physics. He provides sociological perspective in response to the impatience that certain physicists have expressed regarding string theory. At the end of the interview, Green ponders the future relationship between string theory and quantum computing, and he describes the field as an intellectual adventure which makes it difficult to predict the significance of these changes.